28 June 2007

Nicholas Mosley - Time at War

Nicholas Mosley is most famous for being the son of Oswald Mosley. This was true in 1939, and, despite his best efforts, and a distinguished career as a novelist, it remains true now he's 84. He gave up the struggle to get out of his father's shadow when he wrote his biography, having been handed the task by Oswald himself, despite their political opposition and occasional estrangement.

Mosley junior had a brief but distinguished war experience, earning an MC in a skirmish in Italy, and always planned to write an epic novel or memoir about it. Now, 60 years later, he's got round to it with this slim volume.

Too young at 16 to join up at the start of the war, Mosley volunteered upon leaving Eton before he was conscripted, and was trained in a rifle regiment. He was worried that his stammer might preclude him getting a commission - the prospect of an officer being unable to get his words out under fire being a serious consideration - but a string pull saw him through (not his last)

His memoir has been reconstructed from letters he wrote and received at the time, many to his father - debating Nietszche, mostly - and convey not just his physical experience of war, but his spiritual debates at the time, and mostly his desire for knowledge, in that hungry gap between school and university. Occasionally he comes across as a prig, but the old Mosley is well aware of it and punctures his youthful pretentions as a philosopher or literary critic.

Mosley is certainly a good writer, and witty, and in this brief memoir you see the genesis of some of his ideas - his opposition to war, and to fascism, and attitude to religion and sexuality. I've only read one of his novels, his most notable one, which has themes of war and sexuality, and am encouraged to read some of the others I have.


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